Links and Comments: Autism and the Perception of Reality

Two recent items about autism. First, at Alternet, Florida Principal Tries to Quietly Ban Book to Appease Christians, Sets off Sh*tstorm Instead, in which said principal responded to a “handful of Christian parents” who objected to the acclaimed 2003 novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, a mystery story about an autistic boy. The parents objected because of the boy’s matter-of-fact skepticism about “adults’ struggles with faith and a belief in God”.

And then this, in Time Magazine: Autism Is Not a Disorder — It’s an Opportunity. (Alas, it’s subscriber content only.) The short piece reflects the growing understanding that autism is not some horrible affliction that ruins your child’s life forever (and jeopardizes any potential progeny), but rather just “one end of a bell curve” of human character traits, by way of a new book by Steve Silberman, NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity. The flip side of the current alarm over autism is that many geniuses of music and math throughout history would have been diagnosed, by current standards, as autistic. Time: there are

families learning to embrace the challenges that define autism–because along with those challenges comes a ferocious focus that could produce a musician or a computer whiz or even a genius like [Henry] Cavendish. … Of course, raising a wunderkind is hardly the reward that awaits every parent of an autistic child. But raising a child who will touch and move and mystify you like no other person in your life, who can see the world through a slightly inclinced prism and show you colors beyond the visible spectrum — that’s not so rare. Neurodiversity..isn’t always easy. But it is often grand.

Somewhere a while back I linked an item that made the point that autistics were not only less adept at social interactions, but also less inclined to believe in God or accept other supernatural explanations. There’s a crucial link here, in that — as outlined — human culture depends on certain biases of the human mind that are advantageous for evolutionary survival, but are not in fact accurate perceptions of the real world.

On a related note, the frequent complaints by religious parents who don’t want their children exposed to any views that would challenge the parents’ religious faith is analogous to the issue of “trigger warnings” on college campuses, about which there’s a big essay in the current issue of The Atlantic, the idea that students should be shielded from any concept they might upsetting — in effect, a kind of “conservative resistance” from the left. I can see points to make on both sides of this issue, and will do so in a future post.

I read the Haddon novel some time ago, and I think I need to reread it.

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